Christian Participation in the Moral Order

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O’Donovan defined morality as “participation in the moral order.”[1] As Christians participate in the culture, they must shine the light of Christ as wisely as possible. This demands that all sinners are addressed with respect as the image bearers of God. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and all need compassionate Christians to point them back to the cross which offers both hope and the standard of morality. Homosexuality cannot be singled out as a sin worse than others. Schreiner said, “It is important to emphasize here that homosexual sin is not singled out because homosexuals are particularly egregious sinners. Sin is an equal opportunity and democratic employer!”[2]

The philosophy of the age would have conservative Christians to reinterpret the Scriptures to fit the common sins of the day. The Scriptures would have all mankind to be saved and live in the reestablished morality upheld by Christ and his resurrection. One of the most tragic aspects of the acceptance and promotion of that which God has declared to be evil is that the Bible could no longer be trusted. The God of the Bible would no longer be the standard and revealer of what it means to be human and how humans should live.

Theology, for it to be true and glorious, must begin with God and all further study must draw implications as the doctrines flow from his essence. Calvin demonstrated great wisdom when he began his Institutes of the Christian Religion with this marvelous observation:

No one can look upon himself without immediately turning his thoughts to the contemplation of God, in whom he “lives and moves” [Acts 17:28]. For, quite clearly, the mighty gifts with which we are endowed are hardly from ourselves; indeed, our very being is nothing but subsistence in the one God. Then, by these benefits shed like dew from heaven upon us, we are led as by rivulets to the spring itself. Indeed, our very poverty better discloses the infinitude of benefits reposing in God. The miserable ruin, into which the rebellion of the first man cast us, especially compels us to look upward.[3]

Calvin exemplified the proper theological method which began with the sovereign God who is both the source and sustainer of all creation. He also recognized the “miserable ruin” in which humanity has been cast. It is the “poverty” of humanity that “discloses the infinitude of benefits reposing in God.” The “miserable ruin” and “poverty” of humanity must be acknowledged for proper theological inquiry.

The current culture and depraved humanity often reverses this practice. It advocates for interpretations of Scripture which are compatible with the life of the creature. This new method is necessarily less effective, less accurate, less helpful to mankind and less glorious for God. This weakening of theological inquiry is brought about by the false starting place. Instead of beginning with God, these theologians have begun with the person and shaped Scripture into that image rather than God’s own image.

The truly compassionate avenue for Christians to take is for them to engage the culture with the glorious Gospel without altering the Gospel or unnecessarily offending the culture. The presupposition behind several arguments for the acceptance of homosexuality among Christians is that they were “born that way.” They make their appeal to God’s design of the individual so that God is responsible for their life choices because they were born with those particular desires. It has been shown that these sinful desires are to be expected because of the creature/Creator distinction and especially because of the noetic effects of the Fall.

O’Donovan, in his Resurrection and Moral Order, demonstrated that even though people may be born with sinful inclinations, they must be born again to the original moral order. This original moral order was reestablished by Christ through the resurrection. Each Christian, as he or she is born again, is responsible to God’s original moral order. The rebellious moral order is to have no claim on the Christian, and neither should the Christian make claims on the Fallen moral order to establish the acceptance of sinful behavior.  Christians are born again. Christians have a new life in Christ. Christians have been born again. Therefore, Christians must not return to the old man of sin. Paul’s words to the Romans remain true today: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid.….Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so, we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:1-4, KJV).


            [1] Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline of Evangelical Ethics. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986: 76.

            [2] Thomas R. Schreiner, “A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality,” 66.

            [3] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 35–36.

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